Lottery Foes Are Betting The 'Don't Pass' Line in South Carolina

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Gambling is on a losing streak in South Carolina. First, the state Supreme Court voted to unplug the 34,000 video poker machines that have sprung up across the Palmetto State like azalea bushes. Now, anti-lottery forces are hoping to tip the odds in their favor when South Carolinians vote this November on joining the other 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, who run lotteries.

"The evidence is conclusive in several areas - it shows that lotteries are bad economics and regressive public policy," South Carolina Policy Council President Ed McMullen told

McMullen is part of a team hoping to do in South Carolina what their fellow southerners in Alabama did last year when they voted against legalizing a state-run lottery.

Proponents for the South Carolina lottery include the Democratic governor Jim Hodges and state Senator Ernie Passailaigue, a Charleston Democrat. In 1998, Hodges defeated the incumbent Republican governor David Beasley, who once referred to video poker as "the crack cocaine of gambling."

Passailaigue argues that South Carolinians already have a state lottery - in neighboring Georgia.

"It is estimated that between $60 million to $80 million of the Georgia lottery is funded by South Carolinians,"wrote Passailaigue in a recent article. He added that he would like to see South Carolina mirror Georgia's lottery, which uses profits to fund public education from pre-school to college.

"Regardless of how we individually feel about gambling, we must recognize the unfortunate fact that South Carolinians are already playing the lottery in large numbers, to our state's detriment and other states' benefit," said Passailaigue.

McMullen, and others such as Focus on the Family director Dr. James Dobson, believe that any benefits from lotteries are outweighed by the economic and social costs that problem gambling places on the poorest people in the states that sponsor lotteries.

"Individuals making less than $10,000 a year are the lotteries' best customers," Focus on the Family spokesman Ron Reno told "There's no debate among sane people on that point," he added.

Although McMullen disputes the claims that as much as $100 million is being siphoned from South Carolina to Georgia through the lottery, he concedes that his neighbors have a right to decide for themselves if they want to have one.

"If they're going to have a lottery in Georgia, and they're willing to prey on and victimize the people of the State of Georgia through their state government then that's a public policy that they have chosen to have," said McMullen.

North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) director David Gale told that it is up to each state to decide the lottery issue for themselves.

"Lotteries are a states-rights issue, so certainly we would think that it would be up to the citizens of [South Carolina] to decide, which they'll have a chance to do," said Gale.